Instead, we’ve been privy to our Prime Minister reassuming his mantle of Chancellor with a string of expensive spending plans, as apparatchiks obsessed about the resignation of Ruth Kelly. Credit crunch? What credit crunch?
Not that the week has exactly been without incident. While Irn-Bru manufacturer AG Barr defied the economy and a second lousy summer with an excellent performance (see p8), shares were suspended for the second time in Hill Station following a reduction in working capital (see p4). Is the bad blood of the banks trickling down to non-financial? I’ve heard a lot of CEOs telling me ‘It’s bad, but we’ll be OK because...’ But anyone who thinks food – and grocery retailing – a safe haven from this storm is kidding themselves.
Consider: over the past 10 years debt has been dirt cheap, which allowed manufacturers and suppliers to buy up rivals or hive off cash into retirement funds and pension pots. Supermarkets seized on the opportunity to extend debtor days. Why not, when they knew credit was easy to come by for their suppliers?
Now we have the perfect storm. At the same time as (1) raw materials and energy/fuel prices are going up, we are seeing (2) the first evidence that volume and value is falling, while (3) supermarkets are not only proving hard to budge on price but, in fact, seeking discounts.
Now (5) the credit facilities are far harder to negotiate and we’re also seeing (6) a reduction in credit from suppliers. We’ve already seen the credit crunch. Now get ready for a trade credit crunch. A crunch within a crunch as one insolvency expert called it, and not a toffee in sight.